Newly appointed municipal Judge Kathleen Jenks says it's distressing to see the same faces in her courtroom week in and week out.
"It is really frustrating to have people coming in with new charges when they're supposed to be on probation," she says. When those people are repeatedly accused of crimes such as drunk driving and partner or family member assault, it's especially troubling for Jenks.
Court staffers say that part of the problem is that the Missoula Municipal Court hasn't offered a consistent supervision program to ensure offenders fulfill court mandates like abstaining from alcohol, paying fines and attending anger management classes. The gap in oversight increases the odds offenders will get in trouble again.
"The philosophy behind it is, your municipal court is first stop," says Municipal Court Administrator Tina Schmaus. "If that's a meaningful interface the first time, we don't see you again."
Jenks replaced Missoula's Municipal Judge Donald Louden in December. During his decades on the bench, Louden earned a reputation for being lenient. Since taking over the court, Jenks has worked to increase the court's efficiency and ensure offenders receive more stringent oversight.
With that in mind, Jenks is asking Missoula City Council to approve creation of a new misdemeanor supervision program to better track individuals convicted of serious offenses. If council approves the proposal, Missoula Correctional Services would oversee the program. The court would contract with MCS for $172,935 annually. In exchange, MCS would provide probation officers to keep track of up to 160 defendants at any given time. Defendants who violate the terms of their release could be taken into custody.
Municipal court revenue generated by fines would cover the cost of the program; so far this year, the court has brought in $111,000 in DUI fines alone. "It comes out of our coffers," Jenks says. She sees the investment as a no-brainer.
"For me it's just about accountability...I don't believe that you have any justice without accountability, or progress in treatment without accountability."